In The Golden Tower, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series comes to an end. When the first installment, The Iron Trial, was released in 2014, I was charmed by its innovative twists on the “chosen one” narrative; though clearly inspired by Harry Potter, Black and Clare seemed determined to subvert expectations. Four years later brings us to The Golden Tower, following Callum as he returns for a fifth year at the Magisterium after being cleared of being the Enemy of Death. His reception by his fellow classmates is less than enthusiastic, and it doesn’t help that Callum now has Aaron’s soul rattling around in his head, too.
As the fifth book in a series, it is perhaps unsurprising that readers’ experience of The Golden Tower will be based on how they already feel about the series. If you’ve loved following Callum’s journey so far, The Golden Tower won’t let you down. It wraps up loose threads and unravels longstanding mysteries, all with a surprising plot twist or two thrown in. If you’ve started to lose faith in the series – as I admit I have – the novel is equally unlikely to unsettle expectations.
For me, the disjunction comes as Callum, Aaron, Jasper, and Tamara have aged – the tone and level of each book have remained the same. Though the characters are now in their upper teens, they still act in essentially the same way they did when they were 12, except for their interest in kissing each other – and I always find it strange when books that are ostensibly targeted towards children ages 8 to 12 focus extensively on making out. Of course, by the time kids have reached the older side of that range, they may be wondering about such things. Then again – as I found in my time as a bookseller – if they are, they usually gravitate away from middle-grade and toward YA anyway, leaving it to younger children.
Still, you can’t really fault a series for sticking to a style suited to an age bracket it ostensibly serves, even if you raise an eyebrow at what is being proffered. The more egregious sin is a narrative one – The Golden Tower felt rather… unnecessary? For me, the momentum of the series was mostly spent at the end of The Silver Mask, and the events of this novel mostly felt like a drawn-out epilogue. Hence my earlier assertion that your pre-existing attitude toward the series will color how you feel about The Golden Tower: If you really like the characters, you’ll be happy to follow them around for a little while longer. If you were hoping for a compelling narrative, The Golden Tower is a bit lukewarm.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review.